Maud Lewis painting sells for $45,500
JASON MALLOY SALTWIRE NETWORK jason.malloy @saltwire.com Maud Lewis holds one of her paintings in front of her Marshalltown home.
A Maud Lewis painting recently fetched a record price during an auction in Victoria Vale, Annapolis County. The mid-to-late-1950s artwork, 'Sandy Cove in Fall,' painted on beaverboard, went for $45,500 on Nov. 6. “When it went over 40 is when it was, ‘Oh my,'” says Laurie Bezanson, who runs Bezanson Auctioneering with her husband, Rick, out of the former Margaretsville Elementary School. “It was a shock for a little auction house like us to get to that amount.” While some Maud Lewis paintings have gone for higher amounts at auction, they would have included a buyers' premium, which the Bezansons don't charge. So the $45,500 would be the hammer price, as it is known in the business. The previous high hammer price for a Maud Lewis painting was $45,000 set in Ontario in 2017 after it was discovered in a thrift store – $45,500 is also a record for a single item sold by Bezanson Auctioneering. The man, who won the recent auction by phone, has chosen to remain anonymous. “It's staying in the Maritimes, but going out of province,” says Bezanson. Maud Lewis was born in 1903 in Yarmouth County but moved to Marshalltown outside Digby, where she lived with husband, Everett Lewis. She is remembered as perhaps Canada's most important folk artist. She suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and painting became increasingly more difficult. She died in 1970 at the age of 67. 'Sandy Cove in Fall' is the third Maud painting the Bezansons have sold, but the first to reach close to those figures. The company sold its first in 2018 for $18,500 and about six months later sold another for $14,000. The first and third paintings were owned by the same Nova Scotia consignor. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, contacted the Bezansons about two months ago to see if they were interested in selling the latest painting. “We said, ‘Absolutely,'” Bezanson says. They brought it back to Victoria Vale and started doing some research, advertising the auction and contacting potential purchasers. “Then the phone calls started,” Bezanson says. Some people were interested in buying it outright before it hit the block, but they were committed to take it to auction. “It's a good drawing card,” Bezanson explains. “When you sell something really well, the word gets around and hopefully there'll be more consignors that will come out and say, ‘Hey, I've got this hanging upstairs in my room, let's sell it.'” The painting was scheduled to go to auction at 1 p.m. on Nov. 6. Bezanson started to see some of the potential bidders arrive around 12:30 p.m. as anticipation began to grow. Bezanson thought the painting would do well, but the people who would determine the final price held their cards close to the vest. “The buyers that are coming, they're not saying a word.” It didn't take long for the price to beat the company's previous record for a Maud painting as the first bid was $25,000. Two in-person bidders went back and forth while Bezanson relayed information to the eventual winning bidder on the phone. He got into the auction around $40,000 when one of the other two bidders stopped. When the man on the phone bid $45,500, the other bidder dropped out. Sold! “It's amazing,” Bezanson says about her initial reaction. “That was pretty exciting.” Alan Deacon, a Maud Lewis expert and Wolfville resident, says the prices for Maud's paintings have jumped recently. “The Maud Lewis record prices have gone up three times in the last six months,” he says. He says the film 'Maudie,' starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, and a 2019 exhibition of Maud's work at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Vaughan, Ont., curated by Sarah Milroy, created more interest in the Nova Scotian's paintings. Deacon remembers seeing one of Maud's paintings for the first time in October 1968. He was with a friend at the officers' mess in Greenwood when a flight crew came in. The major recognized Deacon's friend's Irish accent and noted his wife was Irish. He invited them back to his home for a meal. “Half an hour later, we're in the major's house enjoying a steak, but it was the painting on the wall that I couldn't keep my eyes off of.” The major's wife explained who Maud was and where she lived. A few weeks later, Deacon and some friends ventured to Marshalltown. “Maud just had the one painting. It was a grey, fluffy cat,” he recalls. Deacon wasn't overly fond of that particular painting but had recognized the artist's talents and wanted to own one of her paintings. “This was really special work.” He went back a few weekends later and bought another. “Maud had just one painting – 'Oxen in winter' – it was still wet. You couldn't haggle on the price – it was $10,” he says. “It was quite a lot in those days. I think you could've run your car on gas for $10 for the whole month.” He has continued to collect pieces through the years but declined to divulge how many he has. “I don't think I set out to be the collector or the expert; it just sort of happened over time,” he says. Sometimes news like the recent record gets others thinking of selling their own items. “That's what we're hoping,” Bezanson says, noting some of the other interested bidders feel the same way. “With strong results like that, maybe other ones will start to surface now,” one of them told Bezanson.